Strange Horizons, December 1, 2014

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Strange Horizons, December 1, 2014

“Kenneth: A User’s Manual” by Sam J. Miller

Reviewed by Charles Payseur

Mixing text and illustrations to subtle and devastating effect, Sam J. Miller‘s “Kenneth: A User’s Manual” offers a warning and guidelines for a sort of artificial man, and in so doing offers a different sort of warning and guidelines for living on where others have not. Short and interspersed with sketchy illustrations of Kenneth, a sort of idealized man from the height of gay club culture, the manual offers users tips to properly use Kenneth and avoid harm. The story is cleverly layered, a statement issued in response to complaints about the model, a business memo but also a sort of manifesto from the designer, from the man responsible for creating Kenneth out of his own need to capture something beautiful from the past. For all his reaching, though, the author of the manual ends his guide with the realization that what Kenneth does is not offer comfort, exactly, or release, but rather requires the user to face the stark realities of life. Concise and wrenching, the story uses its form to further its message, to amazing results.

Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at Perihelion Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @ClowderofTwo